Strategy needed to ensure women study science

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pretoria - Interventions are needed to ensure more women study to become scientists and that they are able to progress through the system, says Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.

"Our strategies must begin at primary school level because girls and women are usually not encouraged to be scientists. In fact, they are sometimes actively discouraged by parents, teachers and even universities," said the minister.

She was speaking at the South African Women in Science Awards in Sandton, Johannesburg on Friday.

Girls and women were not supposed to be good at maths or science. "And it shows in the studies of performance in maths and science in school. Boys do better, because they are encouraged to do better," said Ms Pandor.

She said women students in scarce skills faculties and schools need focussed support and mentoring.

"We need interventions to manage career flexibility for women in science. We need interventions in favour of developing women in research."

Some practical interventions include the provision of equipment grants, special conference funding, workshops in publication and writing skills, postgraduate grants and research fellowships for women, special concessions for study leave as well as active institutional communication about research opportunities.

She said while many of these initiatives were aimed at young researchers in general, they must include a focus on attracting women to take up these programmes.

The National Advisory Council on Innovation has a committee focusing on Women in Science, Engineering and Technology and the National Research Foundation runs a Women in Research Programme.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) offers small grants to undergraduates who have research potential and are in their third or fourth year of study, to learn about research by providing research assistance to experienced academics in their field.

"However, much more must be done - only one in three published scientists is a woman, and she is younger and less qualified than her male colleagues," said the minister.